Clark University will shine a spotlight on undergraduate student research April 27 at the launch of ClarkFEST, with project topics ranging from the impact of social media comments on social movements to the disproportionate effect COVID-19 had on unemployment rates across demographic groups.
A reimagining of two longtime undergraduate academic festivals, Fall Fest and Academic Spree Day, ClarkFEST also will include creative elements, including a fabric art display and online element well suited for the work of students at the Becker School of Design & Technology.
ClarkFEST, which will be held both virtually and in person on Wednesday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., will feature posters, oral presentations, and interactive exhibits of undergraduate student research.
“As important as it is to share knowledge and information, it’s also about human development. We’re highlighting students’ skills and preparing them for the next stage in their life,” says Kerri Stearns, the coordinator of ClarkFEST and a staff member in the Psychology Department. Stearns and Anne Harrington, associate dean for academic enhancement, received Clark Academic Innovation funding to revamp the academic festival.
Up to 1,000 people can register online for the ClarkFEST Spring 2022 Virtual Expo and a full brochure of ClarkFEST projects and events is online.
President David B. Fithian ’87 and Provost Sebastián Royo will launch ClarkFEST with guest speaker Frederick Lawrence, the secretary/CEO of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most prestigious honor society, at 12:30 p.m. in Tilton Hall. Lawrence is a distinguished lecturer at the Georgetown Law Center and was previously the president of Brandeis University, dean of the George Washington University Law School, and a visiting professor and senior research scholar at Yale Law School.
ClarkFEST will feature 80 student research posters on display in Tilton Hall. Oral presentations and panel discussions start at 12:30 p.m. in four locations: ASEC 111, ASEC 202, and the Prouty and Fuller Conference Rooms on the fourth floor of the Goddard Library. The Higgins Outdoor tent will house creative works featured in the “Docupoetry Prints: History on Fabric, Voices from Events” exhibit.
“As students walk underneath, they can look up and see the images students have silkscreened onto the fabric,” Stearns says.
Additionally, 30 interactive media exhibits will be on display at the Barrett Student Center at the Becker School of Design & Technology site. Attendees can use Clark Shuttle or drive to 80 William St.
Aanandita Bali ’23, a psychology and theatre arts major, will be presenting “Performative Activism: Exploring the impact of hashtags and infographics on resistance against Anti-Asian Hate.” She analyzed how social media responses helped or hindered the Stop Asian Hate movement.
She chose nine posts from Twitter and Instagram and conducted a thematic analysis of comments and responses. Some responses were “mobilizing,” meaning the post was helpful to the movement, while others were considered “disruptive.” Bali found that posts shared by celebrities and influencers with large platforms were met with more mobilizing responses. The response was even larger if the influencer’s post conveyed a personal message rather than an infographic.
Bali saw the negative response to a photo of an influencer group posing in front of a “Stop Asian Hate” mural and was inspired to do more research.
“It was interesting to me because, despite claims that this did not help in the movement, it did spark a conversation about the movement at a larger level,” Bali says.
Zander Donowitz ’22, an economics major, is presenting “A Pandemic of Inequality: Demographic Disparities in COVID-Related Unemployment.” The project, which served as his honors thesis, evaluates how different groups of American workers may have been affected by the pandemic. The research focused on unemployment discrepancies in the labor market from 2018 to 2021 and demographics of race, industry, and geographic region.
Donowitz collected population data and performed a regression analysis to determine if certain Americans were unemployed at higher rates. He found that Asian workers saw the largest increase in unemployment during the pandemic when compared to white workers.
“This was a surprising discovery considering that Asian workers performed most similarly to, if not better than, white workers in the pre-pandemic period. Workers in the services and hospitality industries also saw disproportionately high unemployment,” says Donowitz, who is enrolling in the fifth-year program to obtain an MBA. “While it is not entirely clear what is driving the observed racial differences, the findings indicate that different populations within the American labor force have had disparate experiences with the pandemic itself. Research like this could be used to inform policy decisions to target federal aid to the most affected workers.”
ClarkFEST is envisioned as an opportunity for all departments to exchange ideas.
“We have some first-year students and sophomores presenting. Each year they participate, they learn a little bit more and get an opportunity to engage with other departments to find a chance to collaborate,” Stearns says.
The academic festivals returned in-person in the fall after going virtual because of COVID-19. The experience of running the festivals remotely encouraged organizers to expand.
“It was wonderful that we could continue offering students a way to share and articulate their research remotely, but it also opened our eyes to the myriad ways we can present, connect, and share information,” Stearns says.